finding the way out

POSTCARD #254: Bangkok: The story of it is I went downtown to a government hospital to see a well-known anesthesiologist, about the 24/7 headache I’ve had since September 2015, in the hope that, aside from more needles and what-have-you, ablation? I’d discover the right way to switch it off. And to cut a long story short – getting through all the underground labyrinths and corridors, crowds and noise and waiting 5 hours with my headache being as it is, although for the most part, staying with mindful attention – I was finally in a white room with her, dressed in white, and three residents in white too.

Blinking in this dazzling clarity, I was asked all kinds of questions I’d never been asked before. Really it was just one question she was asking me and that was, how far do you want to go with this? Like a fairy godmother, she gave me new, stronger meds, saying try this before getting into these other procedures and treatments. So yes, I went home, took the meds and suddenly the headache got switched off. Hooray!

Wake up next morning and the headache is back. Oh no! Take the new meds and it gets switched off again. Hooray! There have been other times when it has switched off like this, but now there’s definitely a feeling that something else has changed too. I’m feeling more optimistic than I have done for a long time, why?

And I begin to focus and see it’s because of a new kind of acceptance I learned about (indirectly?) from the lady in the white room. She was saying, in so many words, okay I admire you for the effort you’ve gone to in coming to this place, but realize that we’re getting down to worst case scenario levels here; this where we DESTROY THE NERVE and it’s done in two procedures…

But I wasn’t listening, I’d just bounced right out of there thinking maybe I can live without this ‘procedure’. No needles or RFAs (radiofrequency ablation), ‘a minimally invasive procedure.’ There’s this electric needle and it goes in and precisely zaps the nerve. If that doesn’t work then we can put in another needle… but no-no-no, I was running away in my mind, ok, ok, what other options are there?

So I was back where I started and it was giving me a headache just thinking about it! Acceptance, looking more carefully into the Buddha’s Third Noble Truth (nirodha); the realization we don’t have to remain stuck in an unsatisfactory state. Finding the way out of Suffering begins when we let go of the craving that feeds it. An easing of the suffering of mind that takes place by seeing it is caused by holding on to… whatever, the longing for impossible things. Yep, what is causing this? To see what it is I need to accept that it’s there, the giving way to it the frank actuality of it. That was an eye-opener. Finding the way out of the Suffering in the mind means seeing the cause for what it is, a complex attachment/ resistance tied up with the suffering itself. Unravel the knot let go of the whole dang thing, and that’s the way out.

What to do? Train the mind to live with the Buddha’s Third Noble Truth, and I’m better equipped to accept the headache being there. Or go and see the lady in the white room and her worst case scenario ‘procedures’.

“… suffering smashes to pieces the complacency of our normal fictions about reality, and forces us to become alive in a special sense—to see carefully, to feel deeply, to touch ourselves and our worlds in ways we have heretofore avoided. It has been said, and truly I think, that suffering is the first grace. In a special sense, suffering is almost a time of rejoicing, for it marks the birth of creative insight. [Ken Wilbur]


images of mourning

POSTCARD #227: New Delhi: Seen from the air, mourners gather and take their positions to form the Thai numeral 9. The formal title of the Thai King, Rama IX. Found on our Thai social network page, dated 19 October.



Source of the Thai song:


evening flight

IMG_2367POSTCARD #159: Bangkok/New Delhi flight: My frequent flyer card gets me an upgrade thus I carry my pain with mindfulness and step behind the curtain folds where the grass is always greener. Glasses of champage on silvered trays among the apple juices and orange juices – I don’t indulge, impossible, these days of heavy-duty neural pain killers. Look out at the sky, strange flesh-coloured clouds above a dark horizon I don’t recognize. It could be a different planet. Sounds so shrill and pointy-ended I have to wear earplugs squashed into the contours of the auditory passage and pressed in by fingertips. Members of the public seem alien, sentient beings but complex individuals; somehow I can’t identify with them; I just never noticed how weird things were before…

There was the transformation, something else existed before I found I was in a low gravity world, a pharmaceutical weightlessness that allows me from time to time to contemplate the intrusive pain growing inside me like a tree, branches and twiglets with buds opening; it’s there but I can’t feel it – there was a time when I didn’t have this condition… hard to believe. Sensory impingement, even through dark glasses, light hurts as the last of the sun’s rays enter cabin windows, sweep around the interior in the steep ascent of the aircraft and the course setting for Northwest.

Every day and each circumstance is an opportunity for acceptance. A child is crying, front-left. I’m in an aisle seat, the sound piercing through insulation of the meds like a medical probe penetrating internal organs, deeper and deeper. I try tilting my head in small increments to alter the directional frequency of received sound but it’s not working – inconsolable. Fighting against it creates a narrative, “resistance is futile, you will be assimilated,” trying to open to the experience, extending, retracting… then the hum of the aircraft engine sends the child to sleep.

Dinner served and earplugs removed, I’m watching my video (Tomorrowland), good quality earphones and about three of a total four hours flying time remaining – then it happens. In the glimmer of video screens and forever trays of drinks offered by slim shadows of airline staff, a fairly large group of people block the passageway on my left. They’re flying together, look like the same family, all are tall have large physiques, bearded men, women wide at the bottom end, and they’re ordering items from duty-free with handfuls of US currency sprouting like leaves on a tree with many limbs. They can’t count out the amounts correctly because it’s too dark. I feel my irritation flare up in all the disorder and stewardesses’ strobe-like torch flashings. Then a mistake in the change, or something goes wrong, so all the items that were purchased and placed in overhead lockers have to be taken out and checked again.

I’m holding an unbelievable pain/stress crisis from exploding. The squeezing-past-each-other in crowded aisle means I get pushed by large rear-ends of women in custom-made denim jeans who feel they’re small and invisible. Then the little girl starts to cry again and I see the cute child, mouth a round black hole, arms and legs extended, a miniature version of the FAT PEOPLE who are her immediate family. The wail of distress breaks the sound barrier; child is carried up and down the aisle by different uncles, aunties, then a very harrassed mommy, upper body kinda jogging up and down the aisle gets the child to sleep. Every time mommy turns around I receive a buttock shove in the head. The silent pressure that’s inside my head, asylum-straight-jacketed, cannot be contained anymore… it goes, restraints bursts wide open, and the relief is huge… large outbreath. How did I do that? Time stretches out of shape, vertigo, where are we now? Good question, flying at 600 mph. Pressure returns, I attempt to recreate the scene and do it again – the mind forgets, it goes on and things settle down towards the end. We arrive in Delhi, nice landing and a few minutes early.

‘Surrender is the most difficult thing in the world while you are doing it and the easiest when it is done.’ [Bhai Sahib]


strange familiarity

tuktuk05April14POSTCARD#60: Chiang Mai: 05.00 hours and there’s a problem with the internet. I have the about:blank page, a blinding white screen illuminating everything in this dark room. Things unexpectedly quit, don’t reload and I’m stuck because I can’t connect, the flip-side of that happily engaged state. The created ‘self’ has it’s own momentum… help!-help! – how to undo this bewilderment? Step back, get the bigger picture, zoom in, zoom out. How’s it working? Not good. But there’s a small obstruction-free space in this scenario, thank goodness, I remember a sense of pleasant abiding that supports it all. A long time ago I was keeping house for a Buddhist monk who had health problems. It was a cottage in a field in the middle of the English countryside. Theravadin monks are not allowed to touch food unless it is offered, so I’d go into town, do the shopping, prepare and offer the food before noon. The monk would chant the Anumodana blessing, birds singing in the trees outside, and we’d eat. It was a nice time, we’d talk about the Dhamma, go for walks sometimes and a lot of time was spent reading… yes, reading happened often – partly because his computer was really old and the internet connection extremely slow.

Once a day he’d start up this big, heavy, old Dell laptop and check his emails. It could take an hour… slow is not the word – death-like in its slowness. He told me with some eagerness that it was possible to read a page and a half of his book in the time it took the computer to load an image. For me it was about letting go of ‘self’ and what’s left after that? Only the strange familiarity of objects, sequences of events, karma of reoccurrences, and expecting things to happen when they’re nowhere near ready. Maybe it was easier to go along with that in those days. We had no idea about speed, bandwidth or anything.

In the really early days of the World Wide Web, I remember staring into the blank screen, waiting for the page to load and this wasn’t a frustrating thing at all. It was understood that things took a long time, the duration was really part of the experience – it was miraculous when the page finally opened. It was like, wow! I am now in a library in Wisconsin or New Zealand or South Africa or wherever, I see I’m in some room on the top floor maybe with the sun coming in the window and a view of a landscape outside. I’d feel like I was actually there… and isn’t that amazing! So it seemed to me at that time, then in Bangkok, Thailand nearly 30 years ago.

And the familiarity of the old dial-up connection; that strange piercing sound like the noise of an old iron gate swinging open and closed. Somewhere in mid-swing the tone would change, there’d be this alternating two-tone sound – and this is how it was for us, in the cottage in the field, when the monk’s computer would stir into life, he’d place the book he was reading gently aside, look into the screen, like the whole thing unfolding in slow motion. Select an icon, click that and wait for another 2 minutes for the next page to load. No problem, he’d reach for his book, find the place… continue reading.

‘When we come to practice we don’t know what we don’t know. After a while, the ego mask starts to crack and we begin to know what we don’t know. With some diligent practice, we might have a break through and for a moment or so know what we know. And if we continue with this wondrous work, we might stumble back to not knowing what we don’t know.’ [Wild Fox Zen]


the beholder


Bangkok: The world seems different, everything suddenly seen in clear three-dimensionality. Reflected light, rich, deep colours and a strange familiarity, objects in the environment become somehow known. I’ve seen these things so often before but now seeing them with an expanded awareness. It sounds visionary, you could say revelatory but it’s the result of eye surgery, rather than insight… nonetheless quite astonishing. I have this clarity in one eye only, vision in the other eye is like an old yellowed photo, dull and indistinct. The operation on that eye will be in October, back to the Rutnin Eye Hospital in Bangkok. The surgeon makes a hole in the eye and puts in a tool that uses ultrasound to emulsify the lens. The lens becomes liquid and is sucked away, then a plastic foldable lens is inserted in the place where the natural lens used to be. That’s it, done. Local anaesthetic is enough, or general if you feel claustrophobic about the covers over the face. After the op there are different kinds of eye-drops that go on for about three weeks and it feels a bit itchy but that’s all.

I’m amazed that it’s possible to do this; the plasticity of the human body, parts can be taken out, replaced; systems are deconstructed, reconstructed, subject to change. It all supports the idea of anatta: no abiding self. There’s an underlying flexibility about the mind/body organism namarupa. One example of this is that I have a very refined piece of plastic in my eye instead of a natural lens. And, looking at the world, I find an affinity with clear-wrap, cling-film, transparent plastic food packaging – the way the plastic surface refracts the light. In this strong sunlight in Thailand, I notice the reflections on chrome and glass – the clarity is sparkling and beautiful. Also these enhanced colours, reds mostly, and an overall bright clear blueness in the white areas. It has the quality of an iPad screen, retina display, high density pixels merge into one – an extraordinary brightness.

Faces of friends and family are seen as if for the first time. I notice small expressions now I didn’t know were there, maybe because everybody is looking at my new eye, intense Thai faces examine my new eye, and I’m looking back at them looking at me, seeing subtleties in their features that I’ve never seen before. It’s all quite new, a curious reality.

So, I’ll be going around for the next few weeks, looking at my surroundings and considering the phenomenon that I am experiencing this. Can it really be so? ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ (Margaret Wolfe Hungerford). The expression always seemed a bit mean and divisive to me, ‘I’ think it’s beautiful but ‘you’ might think it’s not; beauty becomes a matter of opinion… In Buddhism, the ‘beholder’ sees the world and identifies the self, ‘me’. If ‘I’ am inside the body, in ‘here’, I must be separate from everything else out ‘there’, isolated, alone, anxious – wrong view a fundamental error. The attachment to a perceived self and craving for it to become real, creates suffering. Language has a naming function, creating an apparent identity. Anything that is stated is always missing the point because of these characteristics of language. Better to think of it in terms of what it is not, rather than what it is: ‘… the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving. (the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha)’ [SN 56.11 (dukkha nirodho ariya sacca)]


Photo image: Skyline at Ploenchit Bangkok.

the way out

yak2Chiang Mai: 06.00hrs and it’s still yesterday in the West, internet is slow and unpredictable, busy with the millions of people over there wishing each other well for 2013, sending messages, sharing images, ‘liking’. World is populated with beings preoccupied with devices that can render the ‘self’ as an actor that ‘I’ choose to project to others; mind reflects upon itself in its own world, is aware of its perception of itself as subject in its own blissful states. Other times seeking to escape from the perceived emptiness surrounding the idea of ‘me’ being separate from the world; go that route and, in the end, there can only be an experience of total aloneness – it can’t be that way. But here, some people find God, superimpose a personification on that emptiness. Others just go along with it anyway, what else is there… we’re all on the road to nowhere, yes, I could be convinced, enough to comply with the economic system the politicians try to assure me is real even though I know it’s just based on a concept.

So, taking it on face value, like this I know the whole thing could so easily fall apart, it’s so very fragile but somehow it doesn’t – there’s that collective holding-on thing. The God mechanism is there whether I believe in it or not and I may go on being controlled by circumstances or I can decide to investigate, examine it. What’s going on here? I see everything in the world, through consciousness but I can’t see consciousness itself because I am that consciousness, there’s a subjectivity about everything. Then, when I see things and other people out there in the ‘world’, I’m suddenly an individual again, a self, separate from the world. ‘I’ engage with everything, subject to inherited kamma and actions create more kamma, mostly of no consequence, possibly laying foundation for another state of being at some future time? And from that ‘distant’ place, this place ‘here’ is seen in hindsight, as if it were a former life – this is how it began?

Why bother with beginnings, so distant and removed from this time and place. There’s only what there is now; no past and no future – time is a construct. I’m here situated in the East, 7 hours ahead of London, 12 hours ahead of New York, 15 hours ahead of San Francisco and then time measurements come to an end somewhere in the Pacific ocean, so it’s called a different day, of course. Continue in that direction and I return to the time zone I’m in now, except that, supposedly it’s the day before yesterday. It’s not, of course, it’s always the same day, only present time exists. Always present time and the way out of this puzzle is here, nirodha, Third Noble Truth.

“… the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving. (the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha) “— SN 56.11 (dukkha nirodho ariya sacca).

Daylight coming through the windows, I hear the monks chanting downstairs and go to the small balcony, to see. Down below there are about thirty people from the hotel opposite kneeling, receiving blessings for the New Year – and two large baskets of donated food, dāna generosity. Four monks in pale tangerine robes facing the small group and the sound of Pali verses created in the Buddha’s time 2600 years ago…


– Best wishes for 2013 fellow bloggers and thank you for dropping by in 2012 –

Meditating at 600 mph

Bangkok/Zurich flight: I think there are about 350 men, women and children seated inside this lightweight metal cylinder with wings and gigantic engines, surrounded by high frequency white noise. On East to West journeys (Asia/Europe) at this time it’s just one long night. Food and drinks finished about 2 am. Now there’s the twelve-hour journey to get through; an uncomfortable, restrictive environment. The sound generated by the engines and air pressure and my hearing mechanism are all one and the same thing, inextricably linked. A shrill voice inside me wants to scream at exactly the same pitch as the engine sound, and so become silent in it. Aware that I could go down the road of wanting things to be different from what they are and, in the end, come to see that it is precisely this that causes the suffering, I give up – just no getting away from it. And it’s somewhere between that relinquishment and the sincere desire to be free from suffering that the thought arises: there must be some other way of doing this? And the Third Noble Truth comes walking down the aisle and says in a friendly voice: ‘Yes, there is some other way of doing this.’ Just the thought of it gives me encouragement and after that the flight experience becomes interesting.

Focus on breathing, there’s the presence of noise and I let go of thought. Familiarity of breathing and focus, mindfulness; sitting in this small space, aisle seat, environment of the plane and we career headlong through space at 600 mph, altitude 37,000 feet. Strangely, it feels the same as if I were sitting on the meditation cushion on the floor, terra firma. Einstein’s Theory on Special Relativity tells us everything inside this enclosed capsule is relative to itself, as it would be on the ground. I’m aware we are heading in one very specific direction at an immense speed. With eyes closed, the breathing tells me it’s possible to sense this direction we are headed in. If there were seats facing the opposite way, I could try sitting there and watching the breath to see if there’s a difference. But aircraft design doesn’t provide for that kind of investigatory requirement. They like to have everyone facing the same way.

Trying to get this and other things properly into context causes me to fall into a dreamless sleep for some hours and wake with the announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are beginning our descent to Zurich… ensure your seatbelt is securely fastened and table folded away….’ Then plunging down through rain clouds and down again through many layers to a space where dimly below I see the surface of the planet, December atmosphere, everything is grey. Then down again into a layer of cloud, visibility decreases, the air seems like it’s obscured by fine cloud filters. Can’t see a thing outside the plane window. Aircraft drops, altitude is lower and the light becomes less and less. Then break through into an empty space between clouds, drop down into another layer and emerge into a sky free of clouds, high above Switzerland, snow-capped mountain peaks, and at ground level, the plain, way down there, everything looks dull and grey.

Arriving in a different time zone; here before you know it – takes longer to adjust to the new global positioning than it did to get here. My eyes are still dazzled by the brightness of Thailand, unaccustomed to the dim grey light of the Northern Hemisphere. How can people see here?


[‘11,000 metres below the sea, single-celled “bottom dwellers” exist in pressures equivalent to 50 jumbo jets piled on top of each other.’ Just getting on with their lives, pleased by encounters with small particles of food.]